Pfizer Acquires a Stem-Cell Therapy

Pfizer said Sunday that it was buying the rights to a somewhat controversial cell therapy from Athersys, a biotechnology company — a sign of big pharmaceutical companies’ growing interest in stem cells (…)

The relatively small payment reflects that “it’s really early for cell therapy and there’s more research to be done,” said Ruth McKernan, chief scientific officer of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine, a unit created by the company about 18 months ago to develop treatments based on stem cells (…)

Stem cells can form different types of tissue in the body. Pfizer and Athersys envision the cells being infused into patients not to replace damaged tissue but rather to produce various proteins that would help existing tissues heal or prevent them from being damaged.

Stem cells derived from adult tissues, like MultiStem, are less ethically controversial than stem cells from human embryos. But MultiStem has been dogged by scientific controversy (…)

Big pharmaceutical companies have been cautious about stem cells because of the ethical controversies and the early stage of the research. Also, some cell-based therapies must be tailored to each patient, a departure from the business model of producing one-size-fits-all pills.

But as the science of stem cells has advanced, drug companies are taking an interest.

Pfizer is also developing a stem-cell treatment for macular degeneration, an eye disease, working with University College London. It is doing research with Novocell, a San Diego company trying to turn embryonic stem cells into insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes (…)

read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/business/21pfizer.html

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